Morning...we are two couples that are planning a trip from the US for the summer of 2015 and we want to see these three countries if we have enough time. We are trying to decide between a guided coach tour (GET) and a self guided tour. The first question that I have is how much time would be needed to do this trip justice? The guided tour is 14 days. Also, if we find that we don't have enough time, which countries are must see? We appreciate your input. We have ordered the Rick Steves' travel guides for these three countries.
Neglecting the fact that England and Scotland are two of four parts of the same nation, 'justice' and 'must see' are impossible questions.
You could make the case that two weeks is a fair dose of the RoI.
I don't know how much time I've spent in Scotland, and probably less than a year but two months last year alone - - I figure i'm maybe half done.
England amounts to well over a year and I haven't scratched the surface.
Fourteen days is a dashing whirlwind with a lot of transit time and probably only hitting three or four cities and an outlying spot or two. The thought makes me shudder.
I'd pick either Ireland or a small part of only one of the others. Self-guided, or not, is personal preference.
Since you have lots of time to plan, I would suggest you study the guidebooks, do a bit of research and get a consensus from your group about how they want to do it, then if you decide to do it on your own, come here to ask specific questions. You'll then know how much time you'll have, how much $$ you'll have to spend, and what you want to see.
A 14 day guided tour will get you a 'scratch the surface' overview of the three countries, and they can be efficient and affordable but you'll spend a lot of time on a bus (and probably a ferry between UK and Ireland) and you'll get less time than you'd like at some places and maybe be forced to visit places you have no interest in. I know, I've done them. Doing the same type of itinerary on your own would probably take a bit longer than 14 days owing to the travel/transport logistics and may in the end cost more (all depends) but you'd have the freedom to go where you want and see what you want.
If you decide to do it on your own (which I personally prefer having done both) but only have 14 days, you could do justice to Ireland (both RoI and NI), or you could do a chunk of Scotland and a chunk of Northern England seeing some of the 'must sees', or you could base yourselves in London, Edinburgh, Dublin with days trips from those.
Good luck with your planning.
Thanks Nancy and Ed for the insightful responses.
I would just add that if budget is of any concern, two couples sharing one car rental is a great saving. We did that last year with another couple (England and Scotland). It really brought down the costs. We also included two stays in flats (2 bed, 2 bath).
We did a 17 day driving tour of England, Scotland and Wales, opting to skip Ireland and make that it's own trip (10 years later but we're doing it in July!).
We landed in London in the morning, took the train to Bath, walked around the charming town (roman baths) and picked up our rental car the next morning. Cheaper to rent there and less stress learning to drive from the other side of the car, on the other side of the road and not adding London traffic to the mix! We stayed in each town for at least two nights and made it the base of operations for exploration/day trips.
We drove the following loop:
~ Bath to the North of Wales (4hrs) via M5/M6, touring around Caernarfon, Conway, etc.
~ Lake District in England (6hrs). Amazing hiking and scenery, hiked up to Castlerigg Stone Circle. Older than stonehenge but smaller, in the middle of a sheep field. You can walk right up to these stones, rather magical when the mist rolled in and you realized it was actually clouds.
~ Oban, Scotland (5hrs). Took the ferry to Tobermory but unless you watched the show that was based there, skip it. Colorful houses in the town but not much else.
~ Inverness (2 hrs). Only a two hour drive but we made many stops along the way. Glenfinnan (monument & harry potter bridge), Eilean Donan Castle, Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness. Then explored the north area (Cawdor Castle etc)
~ Perth (5 hours) but again took all day due to many Castle Trail stops along the way (Fyvie Castle, Donnottar Castle) Perth was the base of operations for 4 nights (1 night in a private castle, now sold, then 3 nights in a local B&B in town). From there we did the middle portion of Scotland incluing Sitrling, Falkirk, Edinburgh, etc.
~ Northumberland Region of England (2.5 hrs & stayed with friends) and visited Bamburgh Castle area, Chillingham, Alnwick, etc
~ Drove back to Bath (6hrs) this was a long drive day but mostly on the A1 with a stop in Leeds as the halfway point (so two 3 hr stretches in the car) Returned the car & stayed in the same B&B
~ Took the train back into London and stayed for two nights to see the sights. After the amount of time we spend in the north of Scotland and rural England, two days the concrete jungle of London was more than enough for us to see what we wanted and be ready to head home.
All in all it was a 1,800 mile (not km) trip and so worth every moment. The best part was the freedom to deviate and go see what interested us and quickly skip past that which didn't.
(Sorry for the long response!)
I would recommend that you skip Ireland and get Rick's Great Britain guide book to figure out what you want to see in the relatively short time you have just to see England and Wales. Time is one of the reasons to skip Ireland since the ferry trip is 4 hours each way plus the time spent boarding and disembarking which adds up to one day of your trip riding a ferry boat. There are high speed ferries that make the run in two hours but they do not run in bad weather so you can't really count on them ( Ask me how I know). For a group of four a car is a good idea both for cost and even more importantly for flexibility.
If you do opt to go all three places, you should plan to leave out of Dublin for your flight back. Departure taxes are high at Heathrow, and it would probably be cheaper to arrive there and depart from Dublin. And traveling "open jaw" saves backtracking.
I agree with the other posters on this board. Thanks all for the responses.